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Context of 'April 6-20, 1973: Dean Begins Cooperating with Watergate Prosecutors'

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White House counsel John Dean begins cooperating with the Watergate prosecutors. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Dean has already been asked to resign and has refused, fearing that President Nixon and his top aides will try to pin the blame for Watergate on him. Shortly after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation, Dean issues a statement making it clear that he is unwilling to be a “scapegoat in the Watergate case.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] According to an associate of Dean’s, when Dean told Nixon that he and aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman would have to go to jail to protect the presidency (see March 21, 1973), Nixon seemed resigned to the possibility. But shortly thereafter, Haldeman and Ehrlichman convinced Nixon that Dean could be the “fall guy” for the entire White House. “Instead of agreeing to cooperate, they are still telling [Nixon] that John should walk the plank for all of them. [Nixon] is ready to give John the final shove.” A Nixon campaign official will verify the Dean associate’s account, and say that Dean wanted to be honest, but was following orders from Haldeman and Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305] Dean will soon begin sharing evidence that implicates Haldeman and Ehrlichman in the Watergate conspiracy (see June 25-29, 1973). [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]

Entity Tags: John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean tells President Nixon that he and senior aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman should resign in an attempt to protect Nixon from the Watergate fallout. Nixon concurs; in fact, he has already had two letters of resignation drawn up for Dean to sign. One reads, “In view of my increasing involvement in the Watergate matter, my impending appearance before the grand jury and the probability of its action, I request an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from my position on your staff.” The other is similarly worded, but tenders Dean’s resignation. Dean balks at signing them, and asks to rewrite and resubmit them. Nixon continues trying to rewrite his earlier exchanges with Dean, hoping to shape Dean’s testimony about Nixon’s earlier assertions of executive privilege and the payout of “hush money” to the convicted burglars (see April 15, 1973). Dean attempts to take credit for attempting to stop the Watergate conspiracy in its inception, but Nixon wants Dean’s testimony to credit him and not Dean. He even wants Dean to testify that the case was broken because of Nixon’s actions. After Dean leaves, Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman discuss the way they want the Watergate story to be told, deflecting and minimizing their own roles in the conspiracy and crediting themselves for bringing the story to light. Dean later returns with a written request for an indefinite leave of absence that says nothing about his Watergate involvement. Nixon wants to fire Dean and retain Haldeman and Ehrlichman, but knows that will send Dean into a spate of testimony that will drag everyone, including Nixon, down. “There’s no sense in aggravating Dean,” Nixon says. “He’ll do anything to save his own ass. He’s pissing as high as he can get now. We can’t let him piss any higher” and implicate Nixon. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 588-590]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post headline from Dean story.Washington Post headline from Dean story. [Source: Washington Post]Former White House counsel John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] between January and April of 1973, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post. Dean plans on testifying to his assertions in the Senate Watergate hearings (see May 17-18, 1973), whether or not he is granted immunity from prosecution. He will also allege that Nixon himself is deeply involved with the Watergate cover-up. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of various Watergate conspirators, and knew of offers of executive clemency for the conspirators issued in his name. Dean has little solid evidence besides his own personal knowledge of events inside the White House.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Nixon Central Figures in Cover-Up - Dean will testify that two of Nixon’s closest aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973), were also present at many of the meetings where the cover-up was discussed in Nixon’s presence. The White House, and Haldeman and Ehrlichman, have tried to portray Dean as the central figure in the Watergate conspiracy, and the Justice Department says there is ample evidence to indict Dean for a number of crimes related to the cover-up. Dean and his supporters paint Dean as a White House loyalist who merely did what he was told, until he began agonizing over the effect Watergate was having on Nixon. Dean alleges that Nixon asked him how much the seven Watergate defendants (see June 17, 1972) would have to be paid to ensure their silence, aside from the $460,000 already paid out; when Dean replied that the cost would be around $1 million, Nixon allegedly replied that such a payoff would be no problem. Dean has told investigators that later Nixon insisted he had been merely “joking” about the payoff. Dean says by that time—March 26—Nixon knew that Dean would be cooperating with the Watergate investigation, and that he believes Nixon was trying to retract the statement for his own legal well-being.
Pressured to Confess - Dean has also testified that Nixon tried to force him to sign a letter of resignation that would have amounted to a confession that Dean had directed the Watergate cover-up without the knowledge of Nixon, Haldeman, or Ehrlichman. When Dean refused to sign, he says, Nixon warned him “in the strongest terms” never to reveal the Nixon administration’s covert activities and plans. Dean also says that Nixon personally directed the White House’s efforts to counterattack the press over Watergate (see October 16-November, 1972). Until January 1, Dean has told investigators, he usually reported to Haldeman and Ehrlichman regarding his Watergate-related activities, but after that date Nixon began taking more of an active role in dealing with Dean, and gave Dean direct orders on handling the cover-up.
Reliable Witness - Dean has so far met eight times with the Watergate prosecutors, and twice with the chief legal counsel of the Senate Watergate committee, Samuel Dash. Dash and the prosecutors find Dean a compelling and believable witness. “[E]verything we have gotten from Dean that we were able to check out has turned out to be accurate,” says one Justice Department source. Dean says he tried without success to obtain records that would support his allegations in his final days in the White House, and believes that many of those records may have been destroyed by now. Dean did manage to remove some secret documents before his firing, documents that prompted Nixon to recently admit to “covert activities” surrounding Watergate. Dean’s information has already led to the revelation of the burglary of the office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and to the resignation of FBI director L. Patrick Gray after Gray was found to have destroyed evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972). [Washington Post, 6/3/1973]

Entity Tags: L. Patrick Gray, E. Howard Hunt, Daniel Ellsberg, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Samuel Dash, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Nixon administration, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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